The first sign that the COVID virus is loosening its grip on high school sports showed up this week.
On Tuesday, the Arizona Interscholastic Association Executive Board voted to approve removing the face mask mandate that has been in effect since just prior to the start of the winter season.
The mask mandate was a fall-back measure to save the entire winter season. When the AIA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee recommended cancelling the winter season, the mask mandate, which required athletes to wear the masks even during competition, was proposed and approved as a way to let the season go forward.
The removal of the mandate, approved on a 6-3 vote, also covers the officials working the sports competitions.
New health metrics, including a decrease in COVID cases and increased hospital bed capacity, combined with the fact that more people are being vaccinated, has resulted in a re-examination of the mandate, which will be removed for the winter sports playoffs and all of the spring sports programs.
While this is a significant development in the way schools are fighting the virus spread, all of the other COVID-19 modifications will remain in place. That means that coaches and other school personnel, as well as players on the bench, must still wear a mask when not actively playing, and spectators at the events will still be required to wear an approved mask or face covering.
Those winter sports that will soon be entering playoff competition include boys and girls basketball and soccer, as well as wrestling. The spring sports, which begin next week, include baseball, softball, track & field, boys volleyball, sand volleyball, tennis, and golf.
The news is especially welcome for the teams involved in spring sports since last year’s spring competition was cancelled in response to early fears as the virus began to spread.
But now we’re in a waiting game, hoping that the loosening of the rules won’t lead to a spike in new cases.